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Suffolk cheeses are in trouble - here’s how you can help

PUBLISHED: 19:30 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:43 13 May 2020

A selection of cheese that is on offer at Slate Cheese Picture: Emma Kindred

A selection of cheese that is on offer at Slate Cheese Picture: Emma Kindred

Emma Kindred @eightyone

Five local cheesemakers and sellers reveal why they need your support now and reveal where you can buy their products.

Cheese from Slate Cheese Picture: Slate CheeseCheese from Slate Cheese Picture: Slate Cheese

There’s no denying that Coronavirus has affected businesses up and down the country.

From the makers, to the sellers and the distributors, and those in between, everyone’s feeling the pinch, and has had to adapt their practices accordingly.

Five cheese producers and suppliers across Suffolk explain how they’re coping during the current lockdown situation. From heading out to local villages every week, to selling stock online, they’re making sure the people of Suffolk can satisfy their cheese cravings, while ensuring as little stock as possible is going to waste.

Also, find out how you can get involved from the comfort of your home with The Big Cheese Weekender taking place this May bank holiday.

Julie Cheyney and Blake Bowden of St. Jude Cheese Picture: St. Jude CheeseJulie Cheyney and Blake Bowden of St. Jude Cheese Picture: St. Jude Cheese

St. Jude Cheese has been based in Bungay for six years now, after Julie Cheyney moved her company from Hampshire, and it is where she and Blake Bowden produce three different cheeses. Julie said: “Blake went on furlough immediately and I ceased making cheese because orders stopped coming in. This left me to sell through the 800 cheeses that I had in the ripening rooms here. I didn’t make cheese for three weeks and when sales started to pick up, I commenced making again on my own.”

With the closure of the hospitality sector due to lockdown, Julie saw sales plummet with restaurants and cafés no longer open. “Some of the shops that I supply have creatively reinvented themselves to supply customers in other ways, so there is a limited demand from them but at least there are some orders and I am grateful for that,” Julie said.

“My business is very small, so I have taken the view that as I make a very small cheese, at about 100g, it is not viable to send out one cheese to an online customer.

“I would have to set up new logistics, buy in packing for small parcels, change my website to accommodate online buying and receiving payments and so on.”

Delicious St. Jude Cheese Picture: St. JudeDelicious St. Jude Cheese Picture: St. Jude

Deciding it best not to set up her own online business, Julie has been in touch with other businesses in the area, in order to collaborate.

“I have been in contact with online businesses to suggest adding my cheeses to their range. That way we keep the chain of businesses and workers in place – from the farmer from whom I buy the milk, myself, couriers and the shop or online shop where the customers buys my cheese,” Julie explained.

Julie describes St. Jude Cheese as having “more vegetal, savoury flavours at the moment, but still with creamy notes too. It is so delicious right now as the cows are at pasture during the day which influences the flavours as opposed to their winter diet.”

Visit the website to find out more about St. Jude Cheese and where it is stocked.

Clare and the team at Slate Cheese when it won a Suffolk Food and Drink Award 2019 Picture: Emma KindredClare and the team at Slate Cheese when it won a Suffolk Food and Drink Award 2019 Picture: Emma Kindred

Head over to the Suffolk Coast and you will find Slate Cheese, a specialist cheese retailer and delicatessen with shops located in Aldeburgh and Southwold.

Slate Cheese’s Clare Jackson explains how quickly they’ve had to adapt to the current situation, ensuring the safety of their staff and customers come first.

Clare said: “Our business has changed beyond anything we would have anticipated a month ago. The last few weeks have been an exhausting and worrying whirlwind of change as we process the daily unfolding of this unprecedented situation. Adaptation has been key.”

“While our shop in Southwold is closed until further notice, our Aldeburgh shop remains open weekday mornings only, offering doorway service. There is no browsing, certainly no tastings on offer, and a lot of cleaning going on. The health and wellbeing of our team and customers is paramount, and we are committed to supporting our local community with access to cheese and other provisions,” she added.

A selection of cheese that is on offer at Slate Cheese Picture: Emma KindredA selection of cheese that is on offer at Slate Cheese Picture: Emma Kindred

Slate Cheese is encouraging pre-orders for collection, and is also offering free delivery in the Aldeburgh area for those who are unable to leave their homes. “We also sell cheese online for dispatch nationwide. With our courier following safe delivery procedures, this has been an extremely popular service during lockdown and goes some way to make up for the lack of footfall in our shops. We always hope that a box of cheese from Slate brings joy to your doorstep – now this seems more important than ever.”

Clare and the team at Slate Cheese are committed more than ever to keeping the British cheese industry afloat. She added: “In particular, championing those cheesemakers local to us here in Suffolk and Norfolk. It is vitally important that we support the flow of cheese along the supply chain, from farms to cheese lovers. Animals are still producing milk and beautiful cheese is still maturing in cheese rooms across the country.”

And Clare’s favourite cheese right now? “At the moment I am loving Baron Bigod from Fen Farm Dairy, just outside Bungay. Made with rich raw milk from their Montbeliarde cows, this brie-style cheese is perfectly ripe and tasting utterly delicious. Deeply creamy, unctuous under the rind and so good on a crusty sourdough baguette from Pump Street Bakery.”

Visit Slate Cheese’s website to place an order.

Jonny Crickmore with his Montbeliarde cows at Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay. Picture: Chris HillJonny Crickmore with his Montbeliarde cows at Fen Farm Dairy near Bungay. Picture: Chris Hill

Fen Farm Dairy, the farm that produces Baron Bigod is run by Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore. They said: “We lost around 70% of our customer base with the shops and restaurants closing.

“However, we have received great support locally and nationally which has been a real help to us and truly appreciated. We have really got behind our website and online ordering, and have started working very closely with companies offering a doorstep delivery service.”

“Initially, we had a big online sale to help shift the overstock of cheese that our restaurant customers normally would take. We are now extremely busy processing much smaller orders so we have also had to adapt to this.”

To find out more about Fen Farm Dairy and Baron Bigod cheese visit its website for further information.

Katharine and Jason Salisbury of Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses Picture: Suffolk Farmhouse CheesesKatharine and Jason Salisbury of Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses Picture: Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses

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Elsewhere, Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese of Creeting St. Mary, has decided to come up with a couple of initiatives in order to ensure that as little produce as possible is wasted during the lockdown.

Katharine Salisbury said: “Like most farmers, this has created challenges for us. Our main business is wholesaling cheese, and we’ve had a 60-70% drop as there’s no hotels and restaurants wanting cheese at the moment.” Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese’s four biggest cheeses are Suffolk Gold, Suffolk Blue, Suffolk brie and Suffolk blue brie.

Unsurprisingly, with cheese, comes milk, and Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese has also been blighted by an excess of milk. “Our other big problem is having far too much milk, as we supply about 20% of milk to cafés and coffeeshops. You’re left with a loss of income and also having to feed the cows who are producing milk with no outlet.”

Suffolk Gold, Suffolk Brie and Suffolk Blue cheeses Picture: Suffolk Farmhouse CheesesSuffolk Gold, Suffolk Brie and Suffolk Blue cheeses Picture: Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses

Suffolk Farmhouse is therefore urging customers to buy milk directly from its on-site vending machine if they can. “Every litre of milk bought on farm is keeping the cows here and helping our business stay afloat.

“If everyone tried to shop local and buy the milk straight from the farmer, it will make a massive improvement,” Katharine added. On top of selling its own cheese and milk, Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese is also selling fruit and veg at the farm, taking on stock from local producers and providing a central point where people can get all their essentials in one.

Additionally, the business is taking its stock on the road, all while making sure the people of Suffolk are well-fed and can satisfy their cheese cravings.

“We set up a mobile farm shop in Creeting St Mary every Tuesday. We knew there were a lot of elderly and self-isolating, so we took our livestock trailer and kitted it out to make a mobile farm shop.”

The Cheese & Pie Man ready to sell a range of cheeses Picture: The Cheese & Pie ManThe Cheese & Pie Man ready to sell a range of cheeses Picture: The Cheese & Pie Man

“We have a real broad spectrum of customers, and it’s good to help everyone in this current climate. We love to help, and a lot of customers have said they feel so much more appreciative of the farming community and local produce,” added Katharine. Visit Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese’s website to find out more.

The Cheese & Pie Man, a Dedham-based seller, has been serving the people of Suffolk and North Essex for over 20 years. Owner Simon Marrison explained his reaction to the lockdown and said: “We were shocked, to be honest. The implications were massive, and we felt the impact when the markets first closed. That’s when it really hit home.”

However, Simon found he was still able to trade, due to having equipment that allows him to sell safely from the road. “Fortunately, we have four purpose-built vehicles with fridges, hand washing and TVs. I made the decision to trade only for safety, and no one is forced to do anything. If staff didn’t want to work, they don’t have to. If a market didn’t want a van on site, we wouldn’t go, but they did,” he said.

Operating Tuesday to Saturday across Suffolk and North Essex, Simon is thankful he’s been able to continue doing what he loves. “We are humble, lucky and fortunate we can do what we can,” said Simon.

A 'supreme cheese' selection box Picture: The Cheese & Pie ManA 'supreme cheese' selection box Picture: The Cheese & Pie Man

“We’re trying to be supportive and help local where we can. There’s businesses where their income has halved, so we’re trying to support the local cheesemakers.”

With between 70 and 90 varieties on board, Simon has noticed that people are buying an array of cheeses and experimenting more during lockdown. He said: “Parmesan is popular right now, believe it or not. It must be to do with weekly recipes, as certain cheeses do well on certain weeks. Feta and halloumi, too.”

“A lot of people are using local services and community shops. At the Langham event, we go into a car park there and the village comes out and shops. Everyone socially distances appropriately, and people are giving respect,” said Simon. As well as Langham, other villages The Cheese & Pie Man visits include Wickham Market, Aylsham and Woodbridge.

“We cannot thank people enough for supporting us,” he added. “We’re thankful that we’re being allowed to trade, and we’re humbled we can go out there, as a lot of our colleagues can’t. We understand the difficulties people are going through.”

To find out what days The Cheese & Pie Man is in your area, visit the Facebook page.

If you wish to continue supporting your local cheesemakers, this May bank holiday weekend will see The Big Cheese Weekender taking place – a free online festival celebrating small cheesemakers up and down the country.

Running from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 May, The Big Cheese Weekender will include free online tutored tastings, masterclasses, virtual farm tours and cheesy pub quizzes – all brought to you by the country’s leading cheese experts.

Festivities include a tour of Fen Farm, where Baron Bigod cheese is produced, and a talk by Julie Cheyney of St. Jude Cheese.

For full details of the British Cheese Weekender, visit blog.academyofcheese.org/british-cheese-weekender to find out more.

Julie Cheyney’s quick cheese recipe

- Roast off a selection of small tomatoes

- Once roasted, tear up some fresh basil over them

- Cut up some St. Jude on top of the tomatoes and basil, and grill

- Serve on some lightly toasted sourdough - and with a glass of white wine


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